X-Men: Days of Future Past - James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart
X-Men: Days of Future Past - Young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) meets his older self (Patrick Stewart) in the future ©2013 Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox

Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy reunite to play, respectively, the older and younger versions of Charles Xavier/Professor X for the new movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which the ultimate X-Men ensemble, joining forces with their younger selves, fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods.

Patrick and James spoke about working together in the new movie, which opens on May 23rd, at the press day in New York.

What were the difficulties of making this very intense film?

X-Men: Days of Future Past - Hugh Jackmen, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy
Logan (Hugh Jackmen), Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) ©2013 Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox

James: We’re seven movies in so you’ve got to stretch the characters in order to give the audience something new.

The point of going back is to show how different people are so that the audience can be there for the key turning points in their lives when somebody goes through the crucible, and somebody becomes who they will be.

So you’ve got to hang around for the worst moments because if they don’t kill you they make you stronger. What’s interesting in this movie is that most people do get killed, they don’t get made stronger, but in aid of saving the future and somehow altering the past, and that’s dark and amazing.

X-Men: Days of Future Past - Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart
Magneto (Ian McKellan) and Xavier (Patrick Stewart) reunite ©2013 Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox

Patrick: This movie from the very first shot has found the mature-er Charles in a situation unlike any before.

Whenever we’ve seen the good Professor, he has always had options and those options have included negotiation, persuasion, diplomacy, some resolution that will not be violent.

Right from the beginning of this movie, there is no other option because our enemy this time is not available to rational conversation to being reasoned with.

And the Professor has had to make the decision that we have to destroy something in order to survive. And it toughened up Xavier quite a lot from my point-of-view and I enjoyed that.

Your scene together is so powerful, in part because your positioned so close to each other physically.

James: The scene represents the apex of [young] Charles’ arc. But playing opposite somebody who has portrayed this character for fourteen years made me a little uneasy.

X-Men: Days of Future Past - Bryan Singer directs Patrick Stewart
Bryan Singer directs Patrick Stewart, on the set ©2013 Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox

Patrick: In a sense it was a no-brainer how that was staged. I’m not quite sure how it came about that we were nose-to-nose like that, but I can’t now think of any other possible way of making the scene work, because you are looking into the eyes of yourself.

It was James’ first day of work on the movie, and it was my last day of work on the movie. My bags were packed and I was ready to get out of Dodge. And I don’t recall rehearsing it, do you?

James: No.

Patrick: We knew the lines and they rolled the camera, and it was 40 minutes work as far as I can recall. I shouldn’t have said that. I should have said, ‘We worked on it for weeks.’ But it actually wasn’t like that at all.

X-Men: Days of Future Past - James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender
Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) play a game of chess ©2013 Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox

James: I’ve been a fan of Patrick’s for long, long years. I watched him for seven years in Star Trek and so getting to come and do my version of a character that he’s been in charge of for fourteen years, at his face, was quite nerve-wracking.

But you’ve got two choices, you either get nervous and let it overcome you or, strangely, you get excited at the fact that you might fail. It was good fun.

Patrick: It’s going to take James a year or two before he actually looks like me!

With the movie being so intense, they were asked how they relieved the tension. Click here to listen to James‘ answer.